Newbie Conga Advice

A place where discuss about secrets, tips and suggestions for practicing on congas and to improve your skill and technique ...

Newbie Conga Advice

Postby woodnut » Tue Apr 12, 2016 12:15 pm

Hello folks,

A newbie here with questions!

I am a guitarist first but have aquired a number of other instruments to compliment my recordings, a couple of months ago I bought some second hand LP Aspire Congas and am having trouble getting a good sound from them.


I have spent quite a bit of time with them, tuning, trying different techniques etc and have read lots of threads and watched lots of videos in an attempt to better myself on this new instrument.

Taking into account that I am sure my technique needs alot of work, and also the fact that the instrument is probably entry level quality, I am really struggling to get a nice sound from these and thought I would post here for any advice kind folk might like to share!

The main issue appears to be the tuning / tone. I am getting better at this but as soon as I get what I feel is a better or more pleasing tone, they seem to slip out in a matter of minutes and I get almost sickly sounding ringing and overtones indicating the drum is out of tune with itself. I ensure that I give the middle of the head a good tap after each tuning adjustment but I still can't keep them in tune for the length of a take.


Is it possible that the heads or the rims are somehow damaged from the previous owner? It all looks ok but I'm not entirely sure what to look for. I have used a strobe tuner to get the drums into G and C, I have also experimented with damping which seems to help but it feels like I'm trying to damp the notes because they can't be trusted to stay in tune. I have also tried gel pads on the top of the heads but this seems to make the tuning uneven at the nearest lug to the gel pad.

I have watched some great clips of people playing LP Aspires on youtube getting that great dry popping sound so they must be capable of it.

Finally a question that I realise might be a stupid one to ask but is it possible I am tuned way too low!?. I am guessing that this probably isn't the case but its difficult to gauge how high in pitch and how tight I can go without tearing the skins. In all the clips that I watch the Aspires seem to have little ring, whereas the sound I get rings alot regardless of what I try. Again I appreciate that technique probably plays a large part here.

Thanks in advance!
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Re: Newbie Conga Advice

Postby CongaTick » Tue Apr 12, 2016 10:19 pm

Firstly--and most important for the future of your pursuit of conga-ness-- get rid of the Aspires!! They are called Aspires because once acquired, one aspires to something else. The "something else" that will serve you well for many years and are reasonably priced, quality congas are LP Matadors. They are solid utility drums that will offer professional quality in almost any gigging/recording situation. Once acquired--and if you can afford it-- change the stock head the Matadors come with to good quality steer heads. Tons of suggested head suppliers within the thread search here. With the Matadors, your technique will blossom with practice-- as opposed to slogging the Aspires.
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Re: Newbie Conga Advice

Postby burke » Wed Apr 13, 2016 1:35 pm

What congatick said for sure ... that would be close to a consensus thing I expect.

But that that solution doesn't help short term so for what its worth:

Trying to diagnose sound issues via text descriptions is going to be nearly impossible, so if you can post a sound sample that would be great.

Failing that even pictures of the drums to have a boo could also be very helpful as well.

"they seem to slip out in a matter of minutes "

That frankly is just plain bizarre ... unless part of the skins have slipped or are slipping off the flesh hoops ... you'd very likely notice that though.

"I have used a strobe tuner to get the drums into G and C"

You have the right interval [a 3rd], but I wouldn't get to fussed about specific notes. There have been posts about individual drums having a sweet spot [as you say above - in tune with itself] and it can all be a bit mystical, but essentially it's a ' know it when you hear it' thing ... find that - then the interval, ... badda boom, badda bing.

As for ringing ... if you search that on this forum [same with 'tuning'] you'll see a ton of posts, advice and opinions ... but some of the short term quick and dirty solutions involve hanging a damper inside the shell [foam or cloth on a string] or a piece of tape on the underside of the skin ... I've done that with a ringy synthetic macho head on a matador bongo ... works for me ... its still there.

"some great clips of people playing LP Aspires on youtube getting that great dry popping sound"

Please post them! It will give a much better idea of what you are after ... It maybe what you are describing is a slap or muted slap. In that case it's mostly down to technique ... but hard to say without seeing.

Cheers
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Re: Newbie Conga Advice

Postby burke » Wed Apr 13, 2016 1:40 pm

PS
" how high in pitch and how tight I can go without tearing the skins"

Unless someone put some thin weird ass skin on them, the hardware will fail before the skin tears ... especially on aspires :)
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Re: Newbie Conga Advice

Postby woodnut » Thu Apr 14, 2016 1:15 pm

Thanks alot for taking the time to reply, it is much appreciated.

Yes I am under no illusion now as to the quality of this instrument. I want to exhaust all avenues to see if I can get what I need from it before giving up!

The song I have been working on seems to work well with the drums either G-C of F-B depending on whether I want to blend them or make them stick out of the mix. I found that due to the long ring though if they are not in tune to the tuner thay seem to clash with the key of the song and the other instruments.

One potentially silly mistake that has probably compounded the issue is that I realised last night that when I removed the skins and the metal rings that I did not make sure these went back on the same way they came off. I spent a bit of time trying to see if I could work out where both thes elements seemed to fit best but it wasn't obvious. I noticed that the metal rim is actually a bit egg shaped, as is the drum so could see which way these two came together but the skin doesn't seem to sit that flat to the drum wherever I rotate it. The top of the drum edge does not look to be very level.

I tried working some pure lanolin oil into the skins last night and also messed around once again with some gel pads on the skins. The gel pads seemed to help, especially once cut up. The ringing does seem to be mainly the skin rather than the drum shell. It feels like If I damp the shell it helps a little but seems to begin to take away more of the bottom end and body only only a little of the high pitched sustain and ring. There is kind of a tipping point where the ring remains but the body of the instrument is gone.

Would it be an idea to soak the skins in water (or a heavy dose of lanolin oil?) and seat them while wet with a little tension?
I noticed that getting the same tension on all lugs of the smaller drum results in the pitch being quite far out and sharp to the others, I guess this means the skin is poorly seated.

I will try and get some clips along with the links to the youtube as suggested.

Thanks again.
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Re: Newbie Conga Advice

Postby burke » Thu Apr 14, 2016 2:16 pm

"Would it be an idea to soak the skins in water (or a heavy dose of lanolin oil?) and seat them while wet with a little tension?"

Honestly ... no ... overkill and won't achieve any of what you are after ...will likely make things worse. Those drums can be improved with new skins. That's about it [and that will cost some $] ... other than that you can kill some ringing. That is about it, other than putting some time learning good technique.

You are guitar player right? Well you bought a $200 yamaha beginner guitar ... you will only get so much out of it. In the hands of a player who has put the time in to develop really good chops that guitar might sound pretty good ... but never like an decent guitar. Sow' ear/ Silk purse.

If you absolutely feel you MUST tune the drums to specific notes [a thing very few to almost nobody does that I know off], then why not do it digitally?
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Re: Newbie Conga Advice

Postby woodnut » Thu Apr 14, 2016 3:32 pm

Thank you for the reply.

Yes tuning them digitally is a good idea that I had not considered. i.e. get them sounding in tune to each other and signing at their natural pitch in conjunction with the shell then tune afterwards. - Thanks.

As for new skins, I would like to explore this option but all the threads that I have uncovered seem to just add to the confusion of who other than LP actually does a skin that will fit the LP Aspire. I have come across a few threads that suggest there are no other heads that will fit unless they are custom made, is this my only option and are there no off the shelf solutions?

Thanks!
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Re: Newbie Conga Advice

Postby burke » Fri Apr 15, 2016 4:26 am

" I have come across a few threads that suggest there are no other heads that will fit unless they are custom made, is this my only option and are there no off the shelf solutions?"

Remo synthetic is a option. Not sure if they'd help aspires sound better ... my guess is no and not cheap either.

Better natural skins can help poor drums [steer, cow etc ... not hand picked water buffalo] Most folks mount their own skins ... I'm sure there lots of other sellers besides the ones I link to below ... but check them out and/or call them. They know their shissle.

A ton of threads [many with pictures] here on doing that. You are using the flesh hoop from the drum so no doubts about fitting.

http://artdrum.com/LP_DRUM_HEADS_CONGA.htm
http://www.moperc.com/en/price_list.php
http://www.manitopercussion.com/skins/
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Re: Newbie Conga Advice

Postby woodnut » Fri Apr 15, 2016 10:45 am

Fantastic, Thanks!

I managed a little progress last night. I'm not sure if the lanolin had helped somehow but the drums sounded better and seemed to stay in tune alot better.

I hung a towel inside each drum and used gel pads and after alot of messing around arrived at a relatively happy medium between too much ring and too dead. With the ringing under control the tuning of the drums relative to the track seemed to matter alot less which was great news. Playing a little more gently and concentrating on my technique seemed to help also.

Still a long way to go for both me and the Aspires though. I will have a look at those links and see if it is financially feasible. Being based in the UK always adds alot of costs of course.

Thanks again.
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Re: Newbie Conga Advice

Postby Chtimulato » Fri Apr 15, 2016 12:23 pm

Hello.

You should find easily some flat drum skins in the U.K. I just typed "flat drum skins + UK" in a browser, and found this for instance : http://www.drumfactorydirect.com/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=14_92_102_161
Since any skin will sound better as your Aspire skins, I suggest you search some djembe makers / sellers, or other african or caribbean drum sellers for instance. I guess you can find some in the U.K. You can then order some calf or cow skins - you can even ask the seller for advice and choose the thickness you want / need.

Since you live in Europe, you can also order (great) mule skins from El Greco at descargapercussion (mules from Greece).

Good luck.
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Re: Newbie Conga Advice

Postby woodnut » Wed Apr 20, 2016 11:10 am

Thanks again for the links and info!


The U.S. based options are a little pricey with shipping. I may have to just bite the bullet eventually but I am going to explore options closer to home first. I really fancy trying to fit my own flat skins the online videos are very helpful.

I am trying to source some of the metal hoops so that if I fail I have the untouched Aspire skins as backup but have not had much luck looking in the UK so far.

I will send an email to El Greco at descargapercussion.

I also found these goat skin heads available in various thicknesses on ebay in the UK at what looks like a reasonable price.

Would anyone be kind enough to comment on their suitability?


http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/231020166778?_trksid=p2060353.m1438.l2649&ssPageName=STRK%3AMEBIDX%3AIT


http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Various-white-goat-skin-drum-heads-drum-skin-drum-head-skin-/231776438823?var=&hash=item35f6f3ca27:m:mgamz74eN5544C6fLE3PRkg

Many thanks again!
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Re: Newbie Conga Advice

Postby Chtimulato » Wed Apr 20, 2016 4:47 pm

Hi.
IMHO, goat skins won't fit on congas, even Aspire. It only can fit a bongo macho, if you like the sound. (As I said, IMHO).
Why don't you try the above link ? (or another one)
If you want some spare rims, it's a good idea. You can order some in a music shop, or here : http://artdrum.com/LP_RIMS_ASPIRE_CONGA_DRUM_10_&_11_RIMS.htm. Since it's the USA, you'll have to pay the shipping...

You can also try to find a metal craftsman in your neighbourhood (e.g. a blacksmith or a worker of wrought iron) who can make you some rims.

It's all up to you now.
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Re: Newbie Conga Advice

Postby synergy1 » Sat Apr 29, 2017 8:08 pm

I too am a newbie and I have the aspire drums. I have moved up with the purchase of the lP Durian which will be here next week. I bought a drum dial to tune the congas and mostly I'm pleased with the sound. Prior to that I was all over the map with the sound the drums produced. Just an fyi.
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Re: Newbie Conga Advice

Postby jorge » Sat Apr 29, 2017 11:10 pm

Some of the best rumberos in NYC have and use Aspires and they make them sound great. No denying they sound even better on better drums, but learning exactly where and how to hit the conga goes a long long way to sounding good. Focus on your technique, and building the muscles in your hands and forearms through playing. It takes a few years of focused practicing to get a good sound from a conga, above and beyond the time it takes to internalize clave, get your timing precise enough to sound good with other drummers and learn a decent repertoire of rhythms. After 45 years of playing, I still am improving my sound a little bit at a time. How long did it take you to learn guitar until you could really make beautiful music?
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